Adm. Gary Roughead's four-year term as the U.S. Navy's 29th chief of naval operations ends Sept. 23, when he will turn over his duties to Adm. Jonathan Greenert. Roughead leaves a Navy whose acquisition programs are in more stable shape than when he came in, but which continue to be stretched by operational demands.
He spoke Sept. 15 with a group of reporters at the Pentagon.
Q. What are the most misunderstood issues about the Navy?
A. I think there's not been a great sense of how much the Navy's involved in the ground war. It's something that's often not recognized broadly.
With the number of people we've deployed on the ground - it fluctuates around 12,000 - we often say we have more sailors deployed in CENTCOM [Central Command] than Marines, and yet we have another 40,000 deployed around the world. The scope and the breadth of the Navy presence - a lot of people don't recognize just how extensive that is.
Our construction battalions are busier than they were in Vietnam. The EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] guys are kind of the unsung heroes. I'll never forget on one of my first visits I met a young EOD tech, who the day before had stood over seven bombs to defuse them. That's pretty extraordinary.
I understand that the negatives tend to be highlighted, but the LCS [Littoral Combat Ship] is not a bad story. The last trip I took was to the two LCS shipyards. I was pretty impressed with what I saw. I'm pleased with the price. Extraordinarily pleased with the learning curve we're seeing now. I think those ships are going to be in high demand.
And indications are that we're perhaps headed well on the LPD 17 [amphibious ships]. Submarines are going well.
[The EA-18G] Growler is a tremendous airplane. The higher, more sophisticated, more advanced forms of warfare haven't been on the scope of many people lately. But those types of developments are taking place around the world. That's why I did the reorganization in the Information Dominance Corps, to make sure we're not losing our edge in the high end of warfare. We've got to be ready for that.
Q. How about aviation programs?
A. I think the Navy in aviation is probably in the best shape of any service. We have the [F/A-18 E and F] Super Hornets in production, Growler in production, E-2D Hawkeye in production, P-8A in production, F-35 JSF [Joint Strike Fighter] in production. We have a naval air force where every dimension is being built. I don't think you can say the same for the other services.
Q. Are there factions trying to kill the F-35?
A. No. I don't think you can find anyone now that would say we don't want the F-35. The discussion on JSF has really been captured by cost and schedule. That's where the questions revolve around.
Particularly for the Navy and Air Force, we're looking at fighting in that high-end environment, which leads to Air-Sea Battle, and that whole piece of how does it all work together.
From the standpoint of the wars we've been in, electro-magnetically they've been pretty benign. But that's not the way the warfare of the future is going to be. We've kind of walked away from that, and that's why I'm so keen on this Information Dominance Corps.
Q. Where does the Air-Sea Battle cooperative effort between the Navy and Air Force stand?
A. I'm not just being an Air-Sea Battle salesman here. I think it was something that was extraordinarily helpful. It's allowing us to look more completely at anti-access environments. Not just at the material investments we're making, but are we exercising in the right areas? Looking at the right research and development? Tasking intelligence in the right areas? It's brought the Air Force and Navy closer together with warfare systems and issues than we have been in the past.
As we enter a very challenging budgetary environment, the Air-Sea Battle will increase in value. If we had not started down the road, not brought the two services together, not opened each other's books to each other, when the squeeze comes we'd be off independently working on things. The value of the Air-Sea Battle is going to increase rather than decrease.
The [budgets] are being built based on Air-Sea Battle. It's pretty apparent to everybody that if we want to be as efficient and effective as we can, we have to be joined at the hip on the systems we're procuring. We don't have the luxury of unnecessary redundancy. There are some areas where we're going to want to have some redundancy, but we can't afford unnecessary redundancy just because we want to have it.
Q. Where do you wish to retain redundancy?
A. Perhaps in some of the weapon systems, but primarily in networks. What happens when you lose your networks; are you both going to fall back on the same thing? Or have you both decided to fall back on something different and therefore can't talk to one another?
We've agreed to a more common approach with Global Hawk/BAMS [Broad Area Maritime Surveillance]. That's a great example where we don't need redundancy. Why do we need different maintenance houses? Different schoolhouses? It's essentially the same airplane. Can we operate from one main base and have launching-off points on the coast? Things like that.
Q. Is the Navy serious about delaying aircraft carrier construction?
A. Delaying or not purchasing a carrier is not anything I've worked on. I'm not going to get into any of the details.
The build of the aircraft carrier and the pace that we do it is something that we can't walk away from, simply because of the associated costs and the industrial base.
I was down on the Gerald Ford [in mid-August] and was really pleased with what I saw there. I really do believe the periodicity of building the carriers, how far apart they are, is something you have to watch carefully. If you stretch it out too far, costs go up. You affect the learning curves. You could get to a point where it just doesn't work any more.
Q. Another way to reduce the carrier force would be to cancel refueling overhauls.
A. The benefits wouldn't be as rapid as you would like.
Q. But if you're looking at a 10-year window, those savings would appear there.
A. There would be a lot of wastage on CVN 72 [the Abraham Lincoln, next in line for the refueling] if you were to do that.
Q. The Navy has been at a higher operating tempo since summer 2010 because of a Central Command requirement to maintain two carriers on station in the Arabian Gulf region, a commitment you're able to meet about 70 percent of the time. You said in February the Navy was prepared to keep that up for two years. What happens if next year the requirement doesn't go away?
A. You'll probably see your deployment lengths stretch a bit. I'm not going to speculate on where it's going to be, because who can foresee the security issues? The fact that we're 40 percent deployed just means there's a huge demand on the Navy to be there.
Our view is how you balance the maintenance, the training. As you deal more with anti-access, there's a difference in being able to fight in an anti-access environment than in flying air strikes over Afghanistan.
The time it takes to get all that syllabus in, that's why the turnaround time is important to us. It's not only maintenance, it's also buffing everybody up to get ready to swing.
Q. Has an agreement been reached on operating Littoral Combat Ships out of Singapore?
A. We envision the opportunity for LCSs to operate out of there as part of the operational concept.
What we want to be able to do is push those LCSs forward, particularly in the Pacific, so you're not having to deploy them back and forth all the time. It gives you a lot more time on station, particularly in southeast Asia.
Singapore is a place that we have enjoyed very good access. We have our logistics group out of Singapore. And I believe the LCS' ability to operate out of there is very attractive. I think it will enhance our posture in the western Pacific.
Q. When do you see the first LCS moving to Singapore? 2014?
A. You will see LCSs in the western Pacific sooner than that. And they'll deploy with combat capability.
Q. As you leave office, what's your assessment of the division of responsibilities between the Navy's uniformed and civilian leaders, defined by the Goldwater-Nichols act?
A. From the very beginning, I put a focus on acquisition, because I knew that if we did not get stability on shipbuilding and aviation, it was going to be very problematic. There was no question we were going to come to a downturn on my watch - that was a function of just looking at defense budgets and how they cycle. I will admit that I didn't see the severity of the economic pressures that struck the country.
I also believed that the perceptions and interpretations of Goldwater-Nichols as it applied to service chiefs and acquisition, that we in uniform had stepped away without the imperative to step away. I think we read too much into Goldwater-Nichols.
I set requirements, and I take that very seriously. I believe that in the requirements side we had become not ambivalent, but less exacting. If we came across a good idea we'd simply add that requirement on with little regard for how it would perturb the acquisition cycle. And we tended not to think in terms of what costs would come back around a couple of years later to bite a successor in the butt.
I also have the budget. I told my folks that we have an obligation to make sure we're getting what we wanted. There were a couple of things that were very helpful. One is, I had the privilege and pleasure of serving under two secretaries who are very open to this collaborative approach. And in Sean Stackley, we have probably the best person in acquisition you're going to find. The other thing we have going for us is very strong systems commanders.
If you go back three years, I brought all my ship program managers into a room, all my requirements folks into the room, and we had one of the best conversations for well over half a day that I've had. It was remarkable. You had conversations like, is that what you wanted me to do? I thought you wanted me to do this.
The point being that even though you can interpret into Goldwater-Nichols this bifurcated system, it need not be that way. What you saw over time was the CNO staff and the secretary and the acquisition executive coming together on things like LCS and saying we've got to fix the program; how do we fix it? And no one individual has all the levers.
I would say these perceived gaps have been closed down. I think that what has happened is that a really good environment has taken place between the acquisition organization. I think we've improved that significantly.